Learning How the Detroit Lions Use PR

Detroit Lions Director of Media Relations Matt Barnhart (courtesy of Twitter)

Detroit Lions Director of Media Relations Matt Barnhart (courtesy of Twitter)

The sports industry is an intense and busy industry to work in, especially if you’re doing sports PR.

Last week, a few of our members attended the PRSA Detroit “PR in the NFL” lecture held in Southfield, Mich. and we saw just how intense sports PR can be.

Matt Barnhart, director of media relations for the Detroit Lions, led the lecture. He offered insight to working with players, administration, the media, and, of course, fans.

A lot of his insight and tips can be transferred to more than just football. You can use them for working in other professional sports, too – like hockey, baseball or basketball. (And, you can probably take a lot of his advice and use it in other industries, too!)

(courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

(courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Here’s a bit of what we learned.

When working with athletes, remind them…

  • Cooperating with the media is part of their job.
  • The local media is the most consistent connection to the fans.
  • Be straightforward, honest and develop relationships.
  • Nothing is off the record.
  • They are global ambassadors of the sport, the NFL, the team and their city.
  • They aren’t in control of the questions, but they are in control of their answers.

PR in the NFL

  • PR should touch every aspect of an organization.
  • Successful PR pros truly understand.
  • The top PR person in any organization should be the president or CEO.
  • The role of PR in the NFL: football communications, corporate communications and crisis communications.
  • The goal is to get as many eyes and ears as possible to tune in on Sundays. All stories, reports, interviews and events ultimately lead to this, even during the off-season.

Football Communications

  • The #1 goal for the Lions: WIN!
  • You must grow publicity and brand.
  • Manage media obligations and opportunities
  • Oversee media schedules.
  • Train players to handle obligations, stories and interviews.
  • Keep football the #1 priority.
  • Fans want to connect. Make the connections and make it positive.
  • Goal: to compete, contribute and succeed.
  • Vision: to be a valuable piece to a winning team.
  • Mission: to put forth effort it takes to win.

Corporate Communications

  • You are communicating to your key publics: business sponsorships and sponsors, season ticket holders, and fans.

Crisis Communications

  • Examples: front office changes, fan protests, sick or hurt players, arrests (for DUIs, abuse…etc…), fired general manager, missing players or coaches, star player eject from game on national television, collective bargaining agreements, off season program violations, coach or player death.
  • Every strategy starts with a plan.

How PR proves itself

  • Successful PR pros continually prove their value to the organization.
  • Information is power.
  • “Make every day a strategy session.”
  • Promote positive relationships.
  • Understand and consider primary and secondary publics.
Emily Vontom
Vice President
EMU PRSSA
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2 responses to “Learning How the Detroit Lions Use PR

  1. Keep athletes under control has got to be a difficult job. Seemingly they feel they can say whatever they want and get away with it, but in reality everything the say affects how they are perceived by the general public and also affects how the team and the organization is perceived

  2. I loved this article. I’m a huge football fanatic, whether it’s college or pro, but I’ve always been the first to acknowledge how unappreciated everyone outside of the coaches or the players are. This is true especially in the business side of any football club. And as of late, a need for more concentration and respect for PR is needed in the sport. With so many athletes in constant legal calamity or being held in contempt in the public eye, it’s about time that Owners, Managers, and especially Coaches start further educating their players about the value of their PR staff, and why it is in their best interests to listen and respect what they have to say. I doubt young men with that much success awarded so quickly are going to magically stop making irresponsible decisions, but maybe when they do, they can feel confident approaching their Team PR staff and being honest and willing to find a way to appropriately apologize and ask forgiveness from their fans and the media.

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